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How the "struggle" against Jammeh could end up producing low caliber leaders

By Sutay Kuta Sanneh

Fellow countrymen, first allow me state that, my observations in this article is to evoke rational understanding more strongly that emotional feelings. Over the past couple of days, we are bombarded with claims and counter-claims from some people within these media houses accusing each other of promoting tribal politics in The Gambia. But how did we get here?
There is a saying that countries get leaders they deserve. But I am also inclined to believe that countries don’t get leaders they deserve. How does one reconcile this apparent paradox?

Well, each statement is a different side of the same coin. For example, leaders spring from the societies they serve. Therefore, their behavior and actions reflect its peculiar habits, norms, customs and traditions. However, if you examine Gambia's politics closely but more particularly of recent, you realize that our country is more likely to get the worst of leaders, not the best individuals it produces. Thus this article will focus on proving that claim for a more serious debate.

Over the last 18 years, we have witnessed a brain drain of Gambia's best asset  - its human capital - through political and or economical insecurity in the country. Furthermore, for those who chose to stay in the country, for the purpose of argument, I will disaggregate them into two groups. The first group are by and large made of people I will call the Hangers-on, those with little or no education but knows how well to praise sing their way into positions of importance within the government. And for this group, their survival depends on the survival of the current system. They will do anything and everything to serve the system which made them, so much so, even when they are led to the gallows- Njogu Bah, Land Tombong, Jesus et al -they will still continue to pledge allegiance to dear leader and party. And often we hear people on the moral high ground asking "why should these people allow themselves to be humiliated"? The answer is simple, they are who they are because of the dear leader. The second group are those whom because of their education when they fall out with the dear leader, they can always move to the relatively growing private sector.When I visit institutions like Standard Chartered Bank, UNDP, Deloitte, Q Cell, etc .. I am always impressed by the innovativeness, inventiveness, sophistication, and creativity of these group of people.

This experience got me thinking. A highly skilled banker, economist, engineer, doctor, lawyer or IT guru will be immediately recruited by the best private firms in the country, many of which are multinationals.

Few successful professionals would abandon such opportunities for a career in the thankless world of our public sector as civil servants or worse still get entangled in our politics. I once heard OJ Jallow on Kibaaro radio saying "leadership is our most serious issue in Africa" he went further to argue that just like the Obamas, the Blairs and the Camerons we also have africans who went to Ivy League universities and hence africa should be faring better in the leadership department. Indeed that's is true, but it's just half the story told. For if you look at the politicians /leaders in America or Europe most if not all, have forsaken well paid jobs to serve their people, therefore their motivation to my mind is never the financial reward. For Africans and Gambians in particular, our best of the best brains from these universities, few if any of these intellectual will go on to join the public sector as civil servants or politicians. I know the frustrations of the few who have tried and end up going back to their self-actualisation jobs. This means the people joining the public sector nowadays are the least skilled that our society produces.

Most successful-career Gambians I meet, especially in the private sector but also in the international development community, NGOs and even some institutions of the government are often calm and reflective, sophisticated and thoughtful, balanced and insightful – they love complexity and disdain simplicity.

Most of the angry and intellectually inept Gambians I meet on Facebook or Twitter, on blogs and the ever growing one man ( he who pays the piper calls the tune) newspaper websites or physically in public places also tend to be people whose careers have been unsuccessful. These are the men and women who join our politics. Therefore, the "struggle" and politics is a dumping ground for mediocrity.

It is therefore not by surprise that most of the young men and women whose careers have been unsuccessful in the professions find a home in the "struggle" bus. There, they promote a politics of confrontation, exclusion and corruption. One has to listen to callers and moderators on some of the online radios to appreciate what I'm talking about.

But this selection process also works against opposition parties as they also tend to attract, as their activists, people of these similar characteristics – and worse. The graduates who join them are those that cannot get the best rewarding careers in the private sector or the international development industry. They have the added burden of not being in power and look for opportunities in pamphleteering and agitation.

These are the passionate men and women who, having nothing to do, populate Facebook, Twitter, websites, blogs and call into radio talk-shows arguing politics and public policy – because they have a lot of time at their hands.

They are angry and emotional; their career frustrations fueling both. If their agitation brought the government down, they would be the next crop of political leaders – representing the worst in skills, culture and intelligence that our society has produced. The sad situation is, these are "our leaders" in-waiting at the moment. What kind of change will that be? The answer I always get is " who cares what tomorrow will bring as long as Jammeh is out of the way" or better still " lets worry about Jammeh for now and tomorrow will take care of itself". This fatalistic argument is tantamount to saying, you don't have to worry about where you are going so long as you are on the way. And it's just good to be on the way. But I think we need to worry about two things at the same time. We need to worry about being on the way as well as where we are going. We need to be thinking about them at the same time and that's right now, right here! We cannot afford to think about one in isolation of the other.

However, the most skilled and intellectually astute Gambians are busy pursuing their careers to think of committing greater time to public debates. This has left the worst in our society in charge of our public or political sphere.

What is missing, is a critical mass of intellectuals to provide a restraining voice on these cyber warriors cum journalists cum activists cum politicians on either side of an otherwise angry political divide.

Of course, this is not to say that all public debate in online is in the hands of angry pamphleteers. Here and there, you encounter thoughtful people online – like Saul Jeng UK, Fatou Jaw Manneh, Jainaba Bah, Fatou Sagnia, Ndey Tapha Sosseh, Lamin J Darbo, Papa Kumba Loum, Baba Galleh Jallow, Yero Jallow etc.

Never met them physically but they impress me with the simplicity of their arguments even when I disagree with them. They, however, are few. All too often, they are crowded out of the market of public discourse by the emotional rants of the angry and intellectually inept unsolicited activists.

Even on issues of serious national importance, the participants are mostly those who have failed to make a good career professionally and retreat to insults and false accusations to get attention.

In many ways, Gambia's intellectuals are committing a big national blunder. By retreating to the comfort zone of their professional success, they are thus surrendering our country to those who lack basic values and skills to promote enlightened politics.

Their detachment from public debates has strengthened the voice of the worst in our society. This means that even if President Jammeh lost power, we are likely to get more of the same corruption and intolerance or worse as evident in the current tribal debate.

So we need to begin a conversation on how to bring Gambia's best back into the debate on the future of our country.

Food for thought: "Those who know don't talk and those who talk don't know" Elie Wiesel.
Sutay Kuta Sanneh
UK